We’ve made several hellebore posts, which are hard not to do, since they put on such a great winter show in the shade garden. Here are some of our selections of the fertile Helleborus x hybridus from the garden this week. If you made it to our winter open house, you were able to see these in person. If not, this is the best we can do until next winter, when we hope you’ll add us to your travel calendar.
Helleborus x hybridus is a mixed group from a wide range of parents including Helleborus orientalis, viridis, atrorubens, purpurescens, torquatus, and probably others. The flower color of each seedling varies based on what other colored hellebore is growing nearby in combination with the genes of it’s past lineages. In the wild, most flowers from the hellebore species listed above are pendulous, since upright or outright flowers often doesn’t bode well for successful fruit set in snowy winter climates. Through the years, breeders have made incredible progress raising the faces of the flowers, and in other cases simply colorizing the petal exterior on drooping forms. We salute the amazing hellebore breeders who keep pushing the limits of what we thought possible.
One of several breakthroughs in lenten rose breeding has been the development of the Helleborus x glandorfensis hybrids by the breeders at Germany’s Heuger hellebores. In the town of Glandorf, near the border with Netherlands, these amazing crosses of Helleborus x hybridus with Helleborus x ericsmithii (niger x lividus x argutifolius) were developed. While there are several H. x glandorfensis clones entering the market now, the first two were H. ‘Ice n Roses Red’ and ‘Ice n Roses White’, which you can see below. The special traits of the series are large, outfacing flowers, sterility, and extremely dark black-green foliage. We look forward to bring more of these excellent hybrids to markets as our trials dictate.
Another recent dramatic improvement in hybrid lenten roses started at the small mom/pop nursery in England, RD plants. Here, Rodney David and Lynda Windsor created the first known hybrids of Hellleborus x ballardiae (niger x lividus) and Helleborus x hybridus. These revolutionary hybrids, previously thought impossible, are now known as Helleborus x iburgensis. They combine stunningly beautiful marbled foliage (from the H. lividus parent), with outfacing flowers (due to both H. lividus and H. niger), with a wide range of flower colors (due to Helleborus x hybridus). Because of the wide range of species used to create these gems, they have been effectively neutered so that no seedlings will be occurring in your garden. Below are a few from our gardens this winter.
Many clonal plants we grow today are propagated by tissue culture…also known as micropropagation. In most cases, this involves taking tiny cuttings and growing them in a test tube filled with a goey algae product known as agar. Tissue culture allows many rare plants to be produced quickly and often inexpensively, which is great when it comes to making plants available far and wide. When vegatatively propagating plants through more conventional “macro” methods, it’s usually easy to notice when a mutation occurs. That’s not always the case in micropropagation since the plants are much smaller and don’t flower until they are grown out after leaving the lab. This is why daylily tissue culture has been disastrous. All kinds of floral mutation occur in the lab, only to be noticed years later after the plants are sold and grown out in home gardens.
All of the hellebores clones are micropropagated and so far, we have found almost no floral mutations…until this week. Below is a micropropagated double-flowered clone of the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger ‘Snow Frills’. The top image is the correct plant with two rows of petals. The bottom is a mutation we found in the garden in which the second row of petals is mutated. Honestly, we like the mutation better. As a plant producer, however, we don’t know what form we will receive in our next batch of plants from the lab, but that’s simply the nature of the process.
You know a breeder (Hueger) thinks a lot of their introduction when they give it the name ‘Champion’, and we can’t argue with their selection of this fabulous form of the sterile Helleborus x ericsmithii, flowering currently in the JLBG gardens.
It’s nothospecific namesake recognized the late English gardener/plant breeder, Eric Smith, at Buckshaw Gardens. Eric’s enduring claim to fame are the Hosta x tardiana series of blue-foliaged hostas, most notably Hosta ‘Halcyon’. Smith was also a prolific breeder of helleborus and one that he first pioneered in the early 1970s was Helleborus x ericsmithii. This is a group of sterile hybrids of Helleborus niger, lividus, and argutifolius. Each of the three parents have outfacing flowers, so all selections of Helleborus x ericsmithii were given no choice but to face outwards.
The late English gardener, Helen Ballard, carried the title, Queen of the Hellebores from the 1960s until her death in the mid-1990s. Although she worked primarily with Helleborus x hybridus, she also was one of the first people to cross Helleborus niger with Helleborus lividus. Those crosses, formerly known as Helleborus x nigerliv, now officially bear Helen’s name as Helleborus x ballardiae. These mostly sterile hybrids with outfacing flowers are well represented in commerce with several amazing selections. A couple of our favorites that are looking exceptional in the garden now are Helleborus ‘Merlin’ and ‘Camelot’.
Truly magical, the aptly named Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Camelot’ in flower now at JLBG. This is yet another of the wonderful new sterile hybrids. Visit us during our 2021 Winter Open Nursery & Garden Days, Feb. 26-28 & March 5-7, 2021, and discover all the wonders of the winter garden.
There have been some amazing advancements in hellebore breeding during the last decade, and near the top of the list is the amazing Helleborus x lemonnierae ‘Madame Lemonnier’. Here are a couple of images from the garden this week of this cross between the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger and the Lenten rose, Helleborus x hybridus. The flowers are a measured 4.5″ wide…the largest flowers we’ve ever seen on any hellebore. Because this is such a wide cross, it’s completely sterile, so must be reproduced by divisions (tissue culture).
With the ink barely dry on the Brexit signing in early February, and well before Coronavirus panic hit, it was time for a return trip to the UK for another round of plant collecting. Accompanying me is Walters Gardens plant breeder, Hans Hansen of Michigan. Who knows how much more difficult it might become to get plants from across the pond into the US in the future. In reality, it’s pretty darn difficult even now.
Our trip started with a return to John Massey’s Ashwood Nursery, which is widely regarded as home to the top hellebore and hepatica breeding programs in the world. Although I’d been several times, I’d never managed to catch the hellebores in flower, and although it’s hard to predict bloom timing, we arrived at the beginning of peak bloom. We were able to visit the private stock greenhouses, where the breeding plants are housed, and what amazing specimens we saw. Below are the latest selections of Helleborus x hybridus from the handiwork of long-time Ashwood breeder, Kevin Belcher. We were able to return home with a nice collection of plants very similar to these to add to our gardens and breeding efforts.
I had long wanted to see some of Kevin’s special hybrids (below) with Helleborus niger. The first is Helleborus x ashwoodensis ‘Briar Rose’, a cross of Helleborus niger x Helleborus vesicarius.
The other is Helleborus x belcheri ‘Pink Ice’ , a cross of Helleborus niger x Helleborus thibetanus. I’m pleased to report that both are now in the US.
Next we were allowed to visit the hepatica breeding greenhouse…an amazing greenhouse where plants were just beginning to flower. Below is Ashwood owner, John Massey (r) and Hans Hansen of Walters Gardens (l).
Our final treat before we departed was a walk around John’s amazing home garden…a treat during any season…even winter. Although the light was too bright for good photography, I hope these photos can in some part convey the amazing wonder of his garden.
Here are a couple of images of the gardens at JLBG to show how we garden for the winter months. By selecting and designing your garden for the winter season, it will automatically look great during the other three seasons.